4 Corners - Jamal Iqbal shares his experiences with theatre in Dubai

Seducing the Valiant: The Desert Monologues


In a place where a PR agent will often be on top of the credits in a Program Sheet, actors’ make-up notwithstanding, THIS isn’t PR Spiel.

In the last year alone, I’ve had the privilege to have shared the stage with writers, actors and directors from Iran, America, Ireland, Phillipines, India, Pakistan, Srilanka, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Netherlands, Latvia, Russia, Australia, UK, Scotland, New Zealand, Brazil, France, South Africa, Morocco, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia (believe it or not)…the list is ever expanding. I can add names to each of these nationalities and cultures..and whoa…we would have the entire cast of 300.

That to me, is the essence of the Arts (performing or otherwise) in Dubai. The fact that there are so many people from so many parts of the world. Most with day jobs. Some that lose jobs and refind new ones. Some that move away. All come together wanting to make films, write plays, act and perform.

And the biggest challenge…to find stories that work across our transient lot.

Here are a few vignettes from my experiences in Dubai.

1 – Directors Wanted

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE in Dubai is an over the top actor. We love “Fi Comedy” and generally express our thoughts everywhere except when an emotion is needed on stage. And because we are stubborn actors, we carry on…regardless of a cringing audience.

There aren’t many directors around. So everyone ends up trying direction. I was once directed by a first timer who ALSO played the lead. We did NOT block…until the day of the paid performance!

So if there’s a director, who wants a multicultural and multilingual set of actors, drop by. We need to be directed.

2 – O brother where art thou

Unless there is a comedy show or a stand-up, Emaratis are likely to NOT be there. Exceptions - the handful of Emaratiactors themselves.

No, it’s not because they don’t like to mingle. Just that there are NO Arabic plays. NONE. Zilch. Nada.

Not surprising then when a blogger wrote after a performance of ours how happy he was to see his first “Live” play! Grin.

Jokes apart, I’ve had a prominent Emarati gentleman walk out of a play when he heard a monologue from the devil’s advocate on grounds of blasphemy.

But the sad reality is, non-existent Arabic theatre also, unfortunately kills a lot of talented actors when they struggle with English delivery and pitch.

3 – Tabula Rasa

All not hopeless. Let me not make it seem so. Our theatre is still nascent. In its infancy. But with the guts and bravado of the uninitiated, we march forward.

And helping these initiatives are some great teachers who each carry with them their own influences. From Shakespeare and the Masque to the Stanislavsky method to Broadway, there are some great teachers for theatre in Dubai.

Here are some Facebook links I’m pasting…for anyone who wants an in on people who straddle theatre and performance arts in Dubai. They are, as one of them said, the TheatreWallahs of Dubai.

Kemsley Dickinson -

Facebookkeyword: “Drama Workshops Dubai”.

The merry men and women of Kemsley Dickinson throng the theatre scene in Dubai. His Bi-annual Desert Monologues – a workshop culminating in performances are breeding ground for endless actors.

His lesson to me, “Do no’ fukin ad lib. Itain’t your fukin script ma’et”.

Mina Liccione –

Facebookkeyword: “Dubomedy Arts”.

Mina and Ali are the funny people in Dubai. Ex Broadway, she’s great for those that want to learn Physicalisation and Improv.

Her lesson to me: “It’s gonna be fantastic. Just add that pause.”

Miranda Davidson –

Facebookkeyword: “Miranda Davidson Studios”.

Miranda is someone I fear. An acting coach having trained under Michelle Danner, Miranda brings a bit of Hollywood to actors here. Stanislavski, Method, Internalisation, tapping raw emotions.

Her lesson to me: “Stop playing to the gallery Jamal.”

Sol Abiad –

Facebookkeyword: “Star TOO”.

Sol is a self confessed Bourgeoisie Bohemian. Her theatre is inspired byMnouchkine, Peter Brook, Max-stafford Clarke, Viola Spolin, Jersey Grotowski and AgustoBoal. And if you have an appetite for Experimental theatre, she is it.

Her lesson to me: “Acting isn’t about pretending. It’s about convincing.”

4 – SaathiHaathBadhana

The reason, I gave facebook links above is because it IS, the fastest way we found, for building a theatrical community in Dubai. Creating and sharing events on facebook works brilliantly.

No need to waste production money on posters and flyers. Especially in a city SO hit by recession.

Facebook led to the formation of these Amateur groups where everyone literally helps everyone. And Theatre is kept alive. Just give searches for these words on facebook and you’ll find us, the

painted faces.


An amateur group that does blackbox.


GautamGoenka’s baby, this group encourages directors, scriptwriters and actors.

Dubai Drama Group

Another amateur collective, they look for short plays that they club together to bring theatre evenings.


Run by Jessika and AshwinMenon, Swara deal on the performing arts not just limited to theatre but music, dance and art. Fusing them together.

5 – Community Theatre. NOT.

Yes, in a city with more cranes than Shanghai were built some stunning Theatres. And Amphitheatres. And a Community Theatre.All needing tons of dhirhams to hire.

A show I was part of at DUCTAC – the community theatre overran by 45 minutes. The troupe were charged. Another venue for a show this evening has taken us paperwork to the extent of passport submissions for the whole team and authorization from 2 different government bodies to (phew) get a venue.

Unfortunately, the best and most reasonable spaces to perform are still ART GALLERIES.

Collectives like the Shelter, the Jam Jar and the Fridge (yes, facebookkeywords all!) offer cheap arenas to perform. All located in Dubai’s Industrial District. Now a burgeoning art zone.

Often at the cost of acoustics. And lighting.

So that’s it, the bittersweet wonderful world of theatre in DUUUBAI! And after reading all of the above, if you still wish to come to Dubai and experience us and our theatre give me a shout on - where else – but Facebook! The keyword is Jamal H. Iqbal


I wrote this in office. Between yesterday and today. On my day job as a “non” creative director. And now I shall finish work. And leave office. At 9.30 tonight, me and some other actors will meet at a shisha place. Having finished all our day jobs. The seven of us and a director will start to script and discuss production of our own take on the 7 sins. The whole process of deciding to do the play started on email yesterday. In a few months’ time, we shall stage. Salman from Pakistan. Alexandra from Russia. Mohamed from Egypt. Hassan from Lebanon. Emma from the UAE. Julie from the USA. Assem from Syria. Jamal from India. Us. From Dubai.